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Byron Shire
April 22, 2021

The Noble art of talking about Blues

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Bluesfest director Peter Noble at this week's Rolling Stone awards.
Bluesfest director Peter Noble at this week’s Rolling Stone awards.

It’s  morning in the office of Peter Noble, festival director for Australia’s premier musical event Bluesfest.

The third artist announcement has gone out and Noble is paying close attention to the buzz on social media, heeding the feedback from Bluesfest fans all over Australia and the world.

‘We’ve had 840 likes since 8am,’ says Noble of the response.

Noble believes that the third announcement is the clincher for the festival; once the headlines have been announced, people want to see what shape the event is going to take.

‘This is the best show on sale anywhere in the world,’ says Noble as he breezes over comments from the US declaring ‘Great Bill! Bring Bluesfest to the US!’

‘The first couple of announcements brand it up; the third announcement is when it comes together – where we get to put in the ingredients. You always get the stars out early to get the vibe going…

‘This is how you book a festival,’ says Noble, arguably one of the country’s most successful event managers.

‘You can’t go and book the underbill, not even the sub-headliners, until you get the big ones in because if they all said Yes you’d be going back cancelling people left right and centre!’

‘There are a certain amount of people we chase, or who contact me, and there’s stuff that comes out of woodwork. They are the ones I am still working on.’

Noble believes the strength of a festival starts with the booking.

‘Music festivals should be creative in terms of the way they are booked and, if they are, then they are a great experience for the audiences who come because it might be the Black Keys that got them out the door but then they discover George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and a host of others.’

Over the years one of the key focuses of Bluesfest programming has centred on growing the demographic, ensuring that the bill appeals to a diverse age group.

‘I think it’s good at Bluesfest that you see multiple generations coming,’ says Noble. ‘People bring their kids but they bring their dad too! The kid gets to say to Dad, ‘you are going to love this one’!

Interestingly, Noble believes it’s easier to turn on younger music lovers to older music than it is to do the reverse.

‘Younger people seem open to the older artists. The challenge is in getting the older people to listen outside of their generation… you’ll see a comment on Facebook such as, “when are you going to announce someone who put records out in the 60s or 70s?” when what they mean is, “I don’t know any of those artists”! Those audiences are demanding and they hold the 2013 bill as their benchmark!

‘In the end you are a show man, and if I only book my taste, and the rest of the world doesn’t agree with it, then we’re out of business, so you always have to be listening to the public around what they want and also doing the odd thing that they scratch their head about. It’s really important with festivals not to forget who you are.

We are Australia’s foremost festival of our type; we are not Big Day Out and we will never be Soundwave. We need to challenge the ticket payer to expand taste, otherwise you lose your relevance in the festival market.’

To date the announcements have delivered great news for music lovers with headline acts The Black Keys, Michael Franti, Angelique Kidjo, Jimmy Cliff, The Gipsy Kings, Jurassic 5, and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals all congregating at the Tyagarah site this coming Easter.

The inclusion of Harper in his most powerful and perhaps well-loved outfit, the Innocent Criminals, was something of a coup for Noble. This is the first major global performance since their reunion. Now that is something special. But then Harper has always been a pretty special act for Bluesfest.

‘I angled pretty hard to get Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals to come back to do the show here,’ says Noble.

‘This is an exclusive. They are playing a show here and going home the next day!’

There is something between Bluesfest and Ben Harper. Way back in 1996 when Harper played off the back of his Fight For Your Mind album, Bluesfest was in the front fields at Belongil. We were definitely, prior to that year, a blues festival; we had alt country and blues thrown in, and along came Ben Harper and blew people’s minds about what a blues festival could deliver.

Here was a guy with real roots and young fans; it was pivotal, it changed the face of Bluesfest. I realised it’s not all old blokes in Jack Daniels t-shirts and beards! I’m not meaning to be rude, but the blues audience wasn’t getting any younger!

‘That gig shaped the way Bluesfest became because, as bookers, Keven Oxford and I went out there and discovered all the other stuff we could do and we called it blues and roots from then on. Harper’s appearances over the years have been magic moments. It’s definitely a kind of spiritual magic; the audience goes ballistic for him!’

For program and ticketing details go to www.bluesfest.com.au.

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